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A ‘who’ question is asking about a person. I usually work on ‘who’ questions after students become good at answering ‘what’ questions. Giving an answer that is a person is still very concrete, and students can learn that when the question begins with “who?”, the answer must be a person.

Students in my intensive support classrooms often need visual supports to be successful answering questions, so having picture choices for answers helps them both to figure out how to answer, and to show us what they know.

I made a Boardmaker Online WHO question activity with visual answers, similar to the one I made for WHAT questions, which has been getting lots of use in the intensive support classrooms this month. To access this activity for free, you will need a Boardmaker Online subscription. You can search for it in the community activities, or find it in the Ms Petersen SLP group.

If you do not have a Boardmaker Online subscription, you can find a printable version of the WHO questions with visual answers on Teachers Pay Teachers.


(Note: I have no financial connection to Boardmaker Online, or Mayer-Johnson. I did not receive any compensation from them in exchange for my opinions about Boardmaker Online. I am simply using it myself, and finding it very helpful).


A ‘what’ question is asking about a thing or an action. Typically developing children learn to answer simple ‘what’ questions by around age 3 (example: “What is your name?”). However, students with language disorders can struggle with answering questions. For students who are “emerging communicators” (just beginning to use words or pictures to communicate), learning to answer questions can be very, very difficult!

I have several students this year who are ready to work on answering WHAT questions, and who are just learning to use words (verbal or pictured) to communicate. For these students, the typical WH-question materials that I have used in the past are too complicated, and do not give them enough support. I needed to make more materials, which could give my students more clues to help them learn to answer questions.

Boardmaker Online is a resource I have been learning to use. I finally got my district to pay for a subscription this year, and have been loving it! It replaces the old Boardmaker disks that I have been using (last updated in 2006!). The most useful feature is that when you create interactive activities, they can be played on a FREE iPad app, so that students can use the activities over and over!


My first activity was for WHAT questions, with visual answers that students can chose from. This allows them to show me if they know the answer, and also supports students who are learning to answer these questions, because there are only 3 options to chose from. If they chose the wrong answer the app tells them that it was wrong, and gives them another chance to find the right answer. It has been working FABULOUSLY for many of my students who love using iPads.

Another neat thing about Boardmaker Online is that you can search for activities that other people have made, and save them for your own use. I made the WHAT interactive activity public, and put it in a Ms Petersen SLP group to make it easy to find. If you have a Boardmaker Online subscription, you can add it to your activities and use it for free!

Some of my students do better with low-tech paper materials instead of using the iPad, so I also made a printable version of the same questions, which I laminated and bound into a book for the teachers of those students. I wanted to give away the book as a freebie, but one of the restrictions of using Boardmaker Online is that I am not supposed to give away PDF versions of materials that I create using the Boardmaker symbols, because of the copyright laws. However, I am allowed to sell materials, so long as I credit Mayer-Johnson as the source of the graphics.

In order to respect the law 🙂 and also share what I’ve made, I have two versions of the printable WHAT questions. If you have a subscription to Boardmaker Online, you can download the printable version for free off of the Boardmaker Online website. When you logon, search for “Ms Petersen SLP” in the groups, and when you join, you will find all of the activities I’ve made so far to share.

If you do not have a subscription to Boardmaker Online, you can still get the printable version of WHAT questions with visual answers for emerging communicators from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.


Further reading:

(Note: I have no financial connection to Boardmaker Online, or Mayer-Johnson. I did not receive any compensation from them in exchange for my opinions about Boardmaker Online. I am simply using it myself, and finding it very useful).

This month in Teacher Norma’s classroom our language circle time is focusing on body parts. Knowing body parts is important for students because it impacts self-care (getting dressed, personal hygiene) as well as a student’s ability to tell a caregiver if they are hurt or ill. For students who are not yet using words expressively, it is still important to understand body words when parents, teachers, or doctors use them. “Stick out your tongue”, “Give me your hand”, “Arm in the jacket”, etc. Body part vocabulary is important!


We have been playing with Potato Head toys during circle time. I have picture symbols (sometimes called PECs) with different body parts, and each student gets to choose which part they will add to the potato. Together we build the whole potato! I let students put the body parts anywhere they want, though they usually put them in the “normal” places.


Our book this month is “My Nose, Your Nose” by Melanie Walsh. It is a book about how children are similar and different, using both body parts and things they like or don’t like. The book touches on skin tone, hair texture, but also things like loving chocolate cake, or not liking shampoo. It also covers a good chunk of the major body parts, while still feeling like a storybook rather than an “educational” book. 🙂


And of course, who could talk about body parts without singing the Hokey Pokey? In our class we skip the “left” and “right” and focus instead on the basic body parts – arm, leg, hand, food, head, tongue, ear… Students take turns choosing which body part we will sing next, and we do it all together.


Answering yes/no questions is a very important skill, especially for children with limited verbal skills. If a child can answer yes/no questions, it expands how much they can tell an adult or caregiver almost exponentially. Yes and No are so powerful!

Yes/No are also ideal target words because they can be expressed simply, with or without verbal words. Children can nod, vocalize, or look happy to express “yes.” They can shake their head, look unhappy, or push away to express “no.” Yes/no questions can apply across many different settings, from snack time (do you want a cracker?) to recess (do you want the ball?) to bedtime (do you want your red pajamas?). They allow parents and caregivers to offer choices, and children to have more control over their lives by expressing opinions. Being able to answer yes/no questions can reduce frustration for both children and parents, especially for children with communication difficulties.

Using gestures or facial expressions is often how children start expressing their preferences. Sometimes making a face is enough, but sometimes the rejection can be pushing or throwing, which we don’t want! Starting with what we know the child wants to tell us, we can build those preferences into more conventional ways to indicate yes/no. If a child is using a push-away to express rejection, we can pair that with a sign or word to help them learn more socially acceptable ways to get their message across. Adults modeling yes/no in situations that children are currently in is very important for emerging communicators to learn how to use yes/no themselves.

There are different kinds of yes/no questions, also. Yes/no questions that are preference-based (example: Do you want a cookie?) are easier than fact-based yes/no questions (example: Is this a cookie?). Students typically master preference-based yes/no questions before they can answer fact-based yes/no questions.
yes no

Using visual supports is essential for students who have difficulty with yes/no. The graphic above is one I use every day. I have two cards – one with “yes” and one with “no.” When I ask a student a question, I hold up the cards so they can see their options for answering. It helps cue students who may not remember the words independently, but can point to the answer they mean with the visual support. This can reduce the amount of echolalia that students may use (repeating the question instead of answering it). A student can say Yes/No, point to the word they want, or even look at the word that they mean.


This month we are reading Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman during circle time. Each time the baby bird meets a new creature, I ask the question “Is the [cat/dog/cow/boat] his mother?” The board gives visual supports, along with pictures for the “yes” and “no” for modeling and pointing.

Are you my mother

Other books ideal for working on yes/no:

Additional resources:

Lastly, here is a video with a catchy song about yes/no, made by an SLP working on a kickstarter project. There are words that pop on the screen about their project, which is a bit annoying, but the song is pretty fun and could be engaging for a student who doesn’t mind the words, but enjoys music and puppets.

 photo hellogoodbye.png

One of my favorite times in Teacher Norma’s classroom is when I lead circle once a week. We have a routine of songs, books, calendar time and listening activities which we do each week. The content changes, but the goals are constant and so important. Circle time is a fantastic time to address social language use, listening skills, answering questions, emerging literacy, and so much more! Today I’m going to focus on the beginning and end of the circle time routine: greeting and leave-taking.


What’s so important about hello and goodbye?

There are several important communication skills embedded within a greeting. One of the first is imitation, which is foundational to learning language. During normal development, children begin to imitate waving hi/bye around 9-10 months old. Waving hi/bye has been linked with overall development. When children master this skill, it shows that they are able to recognize that another person is there, and that they can interact with that person. Saying hi and bye is a great way to practice joint attention.

Another purpose of a hi/bye routines is that they signal a transition. We begin every circle with Hello Friends, and end every circle with the Goodbye Song. These routine-based cues help children to anticipate what is happening next.


Nonverbal ways to greet

There are more ways than words to say hello and goodbye, which is another reason they are popular early goals for emerging communicators. A child can use words, wave, fist-bump, hi-5, use PECs or AAC pictures, shake hands, or make eye contact and smile – all of these “count” as saying hello! I use hi-5s a lot with younger students, who enjoy the feeling of slapping hands, the motor skill of aiming their hand to match mine, and the excitement of the social routine. Some students are not yet able to hi-5, but they will reach out a hand to be squeezed, like a child-version of a handshake. Nonverbal greetings usually develop before verbal greetings, so these are great steps towards the ultimate goal of a more conventional word, sign, or AAC greeting.

Thanks for reading! Goodbye!raised hands



We have been exploring Pete the Cat books in teacher Norma’s classroom the past few weeks. This month we are reading Old MacDonald Had a Farm, featuring Pete the Cat.

I love this book/song for how versatile it is. Students at many different levels can interact with the book in different ways.

Emerging language: Students in the beginning stages of language can practice using “more” to continue the song, or to turn the page. Some students are working on the sign for “more”, while others are using switches or words. This works well for students who are motivated by music or interaction with adults. Pause the song in the middle or end of a verse, and wait expectantly for the student to request “more.” If they are still learning “more,” they may need you to model using it (“Let’s do MORE”, accompanied by helping with the sign, or pushing the switch with the child) and then continue.

Imitation: The repeating refrain “E-I-E-I-O” is great for imitation of speech sounds. I have a few students who are in the babbling/imitation stage of learning language, and they love to sing along and practice different sounds.

Labeling: Students who are beginning to use words can label the different animals in the song or book. Farm animals are fun to label, especially when paired with their funny sounds. I sing the song, and pause when we get to the animal to let the student fill-in the animal themselves. If the student does not know the word yet, I point to it, label it, and then look at them to see if they will label it with me.

Answering questions: Students who are using longer word combinations can start to answer questions about the pictures in the book. Questions starting with “what,” “where,” or “who” are the easiest ones to start with. Talk about what is on each page, and ask questions starting with wh-words to engage more advanced students.


Where is the turtle? Where is the pig? Who is in the truck? What does a cat say?

You can find Pete the Cat Old MacDonald Had a Farm at the Sno-Isle library, on, or you can read it free on YouTube!

This month we have been talking about shapes in Teacher Norma’s classroom! Some students are at the level of exploring physical shapes with their hands, and other students have begun to label shapes verbally. There are many, many ways to play with shapes that can be done at home.


The book we have been reading together in class is called Shape Capers. You can get it at the library, or on The book introduces shapes – circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and semi-circles, and then uses the shapes to create fun pictures of different objects (a race car, a rocket, a dinosaur…). The students enjoyed touching each shape, and matching the shape they were holding to the picture in the book.


I made puffy fabric shapes that velcro onto a display board, which we used as we read the book. Each student got a shape to hold and explore, and when their shape came up in the book, they added their shape to the board. It gave students a chance to learn new words, as well as listen for their shape to be called. And the students enjoyed the texture and squishability of the fabric shapes!

At home, playing with Play-Doh can be one way to learn more about shapes. You can download Play-Doh shape mats here, which you can use while playing with Play-Doh to create and reinforce different shapes.

Flash cards and sorting is another way to learn about shapes. Here is a shape activity with cards of objects that are naturally circles, triangles, squares, etc. Cut them out, and have students label the shapes they see, or sort them into groups based on shape. If your student is not able to label yet, then you can do it with them and model the words as you look at the cards.

Happy Holidays everyone! Stay safe and warm, and I’ll see you in January 2016!



I love books.

I love books to read at home. I love reading books at school. I love using books with my students to introduce language concepts. And I LOVE using the same books repeatedly, especially with my students who need many repetitions to learn a new idea or concept.

Over the summer I was assigned to a new school, with students at different levels than I worked with last year. This has given me an opportunity to develop MORE book activities!

In teacher Norma’s room we are reading the book “In the Small, Small Pond” by Denise Flemming during circle time in November. It’s a fun book featuring many different pond animals. Students with higher vocabulary skills are exposed to many fun animals in the book – there are water beetles, herons, swallows, minnows, tadpoles, and muskrats! – and other students are working on the word “in”. My book poster (see below) has each animal OUT of the pond, and on their turn, each student puts an animal IN the pond.

A great way to solidify learning is to do the same activities at home as at school. In the Small, Small Pond is available at the Sno-Isle Library, or on Better World Books.